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8 April, 2021

Mackay Hospital and Health Service's Ralph retires after lifetime of teaching

“Look after yourselves and each other. If anyone needs help don’t be afraid to ask.”

These are the words Medical Education Officer Ralph Johnson wants to share with his Mackay Hospital and Health Service colleagues on his retirement. 

Ralph has devoted the past 43 years of his life to educating others and now he is ready to hang his hat. 

Before starting in the Medical Education Officer role in 2008, Ralph worked as a Deputy Principal and Acting Principal throughout Mackay and Sarina. It was a conversation with a friend about the Medical Education Officer role that saw Ralph make the shift from traditional teaching to supporting the education of our youngest doctors. 

“When I started there were 16 interns and they were only placed at Mackay Base Hospital (MBH) and Proserpine Hospital," he said. 

“Over the years this number has grown to 46 and they are now also placed at Bowen, General Practice and at the Mater Private Hospital as well as a big expansion at MBH.” 

As part of his role, Ralph works to continue the education and assessment for junior doctors leading up to their general registration and beyond. He does this by setting up workshops and education sessions and supporting supervisors in their teaching, assessment and feedback skills. 

Ralph says a Medical Education Officer’s job also extends beyond guiding and developing the education of junior doctors. They are there to lend a helping hand if someone is facing difficulties. 

“At the moment we have a lot of junior doctors and staff who are far away from their families with no sign of being able to see them soon,” he said. 

“The primary support comes from their work colleagues, family and friends and if they are far away we may have a role in supporting them.  

“People are not in a position to learn if their basic needs aren’t being met and we have to have a hand in making sure they are. 

“Sometimes we are the home away from home and that is the very human aspect of the role.” 

Ralph has a lot of fond memories of his time in the health service, such as the redevelopment of the Base Hospital and the establishment of its state-of-the-art simulation centre. One standout memory saw him driving 12 hours to help a junior doctor get home to see their family. 

“One of our interns was going on leave to see her family and she and a very tight schedule with connecting flights over to Canada,” he said.  

“We had a rain event the day she was flying out and they had closed the airport. 

“It didn’t look as though she was going to get there so I decided to drive her down to Brisbane. 

“It just so happened I already had leave booked and my wife was at conference on the Gold Coast, so I thought this was a good enough excuse to go down. 

“The intern made her flight home to see her family.” 

While memories like this make the job, Ralph says nothing is better than seeing interns return to the Mackay Hospital and Health Service. 

“I think one of the best senses of achievement that we all have in medical education is when an intern comes back as a consultant or a registrar,” he said. 

“The other one is when they recommended us to other interns and say the Mackay HHS has good training.” 

Ralph considers himself very fortunate to have worked with the calibre of people he has throughout his career but now it’s time for him and his wife, Suzy, to start their new chapter in life. The pair have bought a home on the Sunshine Coast and plan on spending time renovating and visiting their children and grandchildren in Brisbane.  

“Thank you to everyone that I have worked with,” he said.  

“To all the people that’ve been so generous with their time and expertise in helping the education and welfare of our junior doctors.”

*By Mackay Hospital and Health Service

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